It could be a bumpy ride ahead for transit officials' goal to bring dedicated bus lanes to El Camino Real, based on the reaction from the Mountain View City Council. In a Tuesday review, some of the Mountain View council members who previously supported full implementation of the Bus-Rapid Transit (BRT) plan became skeptics after considering a scaled-back pilot version of the original project.
The pilot project was recommended earlier this year by a Valley Transportation Authority policy-advisory committee as a way to appease the six South Bay cities along El Camino Real's corridor. At a cost of $223 million, the original version of the BRT project called for using two of El Camino's six lanes for bus-only traffic, as well as building a series of new bus stops and infrastructure. The scale of the project and concern over its traffic impacts spooked many nearby residents and businesses, leading VTA officials to return with a much milder proposal.
The VTA's latest pitch calls for a pilot project that would reserve the right lanes of El Camino for buses, shuttles and high-occupancy vehicles only during peak hours. Under the plan, the trial would be enforced for the full 17-mile stretch running from Palo Alto to San Jose during peak traffic hours: 7-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The pilot project would cost a fraction of the original BRT plan's price up to $9 million which would go toward repainting portions of the road and installing signs to alert drivers of the new rules. The pilot is expected to last around three years, but it would likely require the drafting of new environmental-impact studies, which could take up to two years to prepare.
The hope is that it would provide useful information showing how a permanent project would function, said Los Altos Mayor Jeannie Bruins, who chairs the VTA's policy advisory board for the project.
"One of the things that became clear was that the (BRT) alternatives that were looked at were controversial," Bruins said. "The purpose of this (pilot) is to assess the situation; we'd do some before-and-after data collection."
Bruins presented a basic outline of the project at the Tuesday, April 5, study session of the Mountain View City Council, which she noted was the first city to review the new plans.
Approximately one year ago, a majority of Mountain View's council came out in support of the full bus-rapid transit proposal, prompting a fierce backlash among opponents and a threats to recall two council members. Some of the plan's former supporters gave a less-than-enthusiastic response on Tuesday.
Councilman Mike Kasperzak, previously in support of the BRT plan, said he didn't understand what the pilot was trying to accomplish. A temporary project wouldn't galvanize commuters to change their behavior, he said.
"I really don't favor this moving forward," Kasperzak said. "I want to realize the dream, but I don't know if the dream is realizable anymore."
Kasperzak took the opportunity to fire a broadside against VTA for "trying to shove a square peg in a round hole." VTA should have the traffic expertise, but its officials weren't providing enough information to cities to guide their decision-making, he said.
Rising to VTA's defense was Councilman Lenny Siegel -- who last year opposed the BRT project. Now a member of VTA's advisory board for the project, Siegel said transit officials were trying to find a project that cities would support, lest they be accused of ramrodding it forward.
"Obviously this is a divisive issue but we came to a pretty good agreement among all the cities along the corridor," he said. "There's obviously a lot of unknowns, but to me this is a good path forward."
The project received a lukewarm response from the rest of the council. Ken Rosenberg and Pat Showalter, both prior supporters, said they would back the new pilot project even though they had some concerns about the overall results. Councilman John Inks said he opposed the project until specifics on its impacts could be provided.
Like past Mountain View meetings on the BRT proposal, councilmen John McAlister and Chris Clark recused themselves due to a potential conflict of interest due to owning property near El Camino Real.
At best, VTA officials say they would like the pilot project to be tested along the full 17-mile stretch running from Palo Alto to San Jose, but that depends on the willing participation of each city. At a minimum, the pilot could be tried along a 3-mile route, VTA officials reported.
Bruins said each participating city would have to decide on its own how to enforce the dedicated lanes as well as how they would affect bike lanes, street parking and vehicles making right turns. Mountain View was the first of six cities to review VTA's newest iteration of the bus-rapid transit plan, and Bruins said she would be presenting it to other cities in the coming weeks.
Email Mark Noack at firstname.lastname@example.org